Ask SCORE: Even in the Internet age, business cards still a must-have

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 22, 2013 

Question: I'm concerned that our business cards look outdated and unprofessional. So I'm wondering: with all the current emphasis on Internet marketing, and all of the social media, do we even need cards anymore?

Answer: Yes, you sure do. A professional business card is an important part of your company's overall image. They're inexpensive, and you can print them in small quantities. Cards can even be tailored to your different customer types. Let's talk about this.

Today we'll look at the role of business cards in modern life. But first we'll look at why we even have business cards, and how this all came to be.

In France in the 1700s, people of class sent a "calling card" ahead to notify someone that they would be visiting. Of course communication then was very basic, largely by horseback. The typical card was about the size of a playing card with just the person's name, and the nicer ones were engraved. This practice spread to England in the 1800s. There was a great deal of formality about how the "visiting card" was presented. This included very specific social rules about which corner of the card, if any, was folded forward. Each of the corner-folds signified a different purpose of the visit. For example, folding down the upper-left corner signified that you, the visitor, wanted to convey congratulations. Folding the lower-left corner signaled you wanted to bring condolences. If the recipient returned the card to the sender, it meant "no, thank you."

As time went on, immigrants brought the card-presentation idea to America, and we adopted it. Cards here were smaller, and more likely to bear a business reference of some kind.

Clearly the role of business cards has evolved. Now, much more business interaction is other than face-to-face. Your website is your extended card. In fact it's pretty common now to have an initial, and then even an ongoing business relationship with someone you've never actually met. So, maybe it's time to take a look not just at your cards, but to the whole image your business presents to the world.

The first thing to do is to unify the design of all your graphics. This is an important part of what's called your "branding." The branding notion is fairly recent. It's a marketing concept that suggests you should unify and standardize the appearance of your logo, signage, website presence and everything that visually brings your business to mind.

In designing your cards, it's probably best to stick with a few basics:

-- U.S. cards are typically 3.5 by 2.0 inches.

-- The font should be clear and ample in size.

-- Color printing costs a bit more but is very effective.

-- Consider a folding card if you can really use more room.

-- Fun, creative cards are greatly more memorable than ho-hum.

Here are some choices to get you going.

Full-service local print shops. Whatcom County has several very good full-service printers. These have on-staff design professionals who will work with you to coordinate all of your graphics and visuals. They can also suggest ideas that are specific to your business. For example: printing the back of the card with your Mission Statement; or a map to your store; or a space for a client's next appointment.

Online printing sources. Vistaprint.com offers 250 high-quality cards for $10, with free shipping. Moo.com and businesscards24.com and others have similar offers. Basic design templates are available for you to fill in as you wish.

Print your own. A startup or very small business can print business cards, as few as ten at a time. You can do the layout work in the templates in Microsoft Word. Also, Avery makes cardstock for printing good quality cards. Most of the older cardstock looked cheap. The newer products are thicker and they snap apart, leaving clean edges. Free software is available at their website, avery.com.

Also, it's fine to carry more than one type of card. For example, you might attend a social event where your business contact information (office phone and email, etc.) is not appropriate. A "social-business" card is the trick. Suggestion: Use a different design or paper color to keep track of which is which.

And here's the latest news. For smartphone users, several free apps are available which allow you to scan a received card, and pull its information directly into a contacts database.

My wild prediction? In five years, your business card may be a QR Code on your thumbnail.


ABOUT SCORE

To learn more about managing cash flow, and other small business matters, contact SCORE, "Counselors to America's Small Business." SCORE is a nonprofit nationwide organization with more than 13,000 volunteer business counselors who provide free, confidential business counseling and low-cost training workshops to small business owners. Call the local SCORE chapter at 360-685-4259 to schedule an appointment. For details about the organization,visit SCORE.org.

Ask SCORE is prepared for The Bellingham Herald by Bob Dahms, a business counselor with the Bellingham chapter of SCORE. Submit questions for this column to newsroom@bellinghamherald.com.

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